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College Hockey:
BU blows open tight game with Northeastern to clinch No. 3 seed

— It was generally a rough second semester for No. 19 Boston University, but the planets seemed to align for them during the last few weekends of the absurdly close Hockey East playoff race.

After slogging through a 3-8-2 stretch, BU closed out the regular season by winning four of its last five games, finishing with a 5-0 win at home against Northeastern on Saturday in front of 4,641 at Agganis Arena.

BU needed some help from other teams as well as win to secure home ice for the Hockey East quarterfinals, which the Terriers have enjoyed every year since moving to Agganis in 2005. BU needed a loss from either Boston College, New Hampshire, or Providence, and the Friars lost to Massachusetts-Lowell.

Freshman Danny O’Regan led the way with a goal and two assists in a game that BU blew open with four goals in the third period against a scrappy but injury-depleted Northeastern team. Sahir Gill added two goals, and freshman Sean Maguire made 26 saves for his third career shutout. Maguire’s solid play bodes well for BU, especially as fellow freshman goaltender Matt O’Connor is now out for the season after suffering a collapsed lung.

“My first thoughts are that I’m awfully happy we won the game, get ourselves home  ice, get third place in the league, all good things that happen because of that ‘W’ tonight,” BU coach Jack Parker said. “It was in doubt for sure in the second period, [when] Northeastern outplayed us. It looked like we were waiting for something bad to happen. Then we got the goal right off the bat in the third, and that took the pressure off.

“Obviously, we had a great night from Sean in the cage; he played extremely well. Give Northeastern a lot of credit for playing as hard as they did right to the wire. It’s amazing that three or four of those guys (former Terrier Vinny Saponari, Bradem Pimm, Cody Ferriero, and Adam Reid] must’ve played every other shift for the whole game.”

Northeastern coach Jim Madigan reflected on his team’s war of attrition, as the Huskies were plagued with injuries down the stretch, playing many natural defensemen as forwards.

“Obviously, the end to a tough season, one that has a lot of disappointment from the way we started and what we envisioned  for the season to be,” Madigan said. “Tonight, it sounds like a broken record; like many other games, we were short-handed and short-staffed, and the kids competed hard and well.

“We were down to five forwards and 10 defensemen when one of our players was in the penalty box for an extended period of time, and we lost another one for an extended period in the second. We continued to battle.”

Northeastern struggled offensively in the first period, failing to get a shot on goal until there was just 1:55 left in the period. Defensively, they dodged several bullets: Evan Rodrigues hit a post in the first two points, and Ahti Oksanen hit another one at 6:15.

BU did score once in the first during a five-minute power play after Dustin Darou was ejected for hitting Wade Megan behind in the early going, leaving the Huskies with just 16 skaters. Evan Rodrigues skated across the slot before slipping a pass to O’Regan low in the left-wing circle for the shot and score.

It stayed that way for a long time, and BU fans following the scores online could see that the Lowell-Providence game was a tight one as well.

Finally, BU broke it open in the third, perhaps because the Huskies were worn down from having their top players on the ice relentlessly. At 1:12, O’Regan made a great backhanded pass from behind the goal line to tee up a Rodrigues wrist shot and goal.

Then, starting at 12:52, BU scored three more times in a little more than four minutes. On a delayed penalty, Matt Nieto wheeled and fired a 15-foot shot through Rawlings’ five-hole. Thirty-eight seconds later, freshman Matt Grzelcyk threaded a pass to Sahir Gill, who fell to his knees while skating by a pair of defenders before getting up to go through Rawlings’s five-hole again.

At 17:04, junior Matt Ronan, playing just his fifth collegiate game, picked up his first career point. Ronan, who was only playing due to yesterday’s season-ending shoulder injury to defenseman Garrett Noonan, took a shot from the right point and Gill redirected it in.  “I would give it to him if I could,” Gill said. “Maybe I shouldn’t have tipped it.”

Madigan saw the last seconds as a microcosm of the year. “At the end of the season, you saw how our season went: Drew Ellement hits a cross bar with 0.6 seconds left for [what would have been] his first goal of the year and Vinny Saponari’s 100th [career] point. Those happen, but that’s how the year went; close, but still a ways to go.”

Northeastern (9-21-4, 5-18-4) finishes the year in last place, while BU (18-15-2, 15-10-2) won a three-way tiebreaker with Providence and New Hampshire to claim the No. 3 seed. The Terriers will host Merrimack in a best-of-three series starting Friday night.

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